European & International News

Dangers of cosmetic surgery underestimated in society where women are judged by harsh beauty standards

[Brussels, 15 July 2011] Seeking a way to enhance one’s appearance cosmetically is certainly not a new phenomenon. In a society where women are put under substantial pressure to achieve and maintain irrealistic standards of beauty (for more information see EWL ressource tool on cosmetics advertising), many women opt for cosmetic or aesthetic surgery. Figures show that in Belgium each year between 20,000 and 30,000 liposuction are performed, while 10,000 women have breast enlargements. In France the estimated number of cosmetic surgeries lies between 150,000 and 200,000 [1]

Although much has been said about it, cosmetic surgery remains a controversial topic across the world. Discussions on the potential risks of cosmetic surgery dominate, though, leaving more broad questions about the general approach of society to cosmetic surgery aside.

“My Beautiful Mummy”

Recently, a children’s picture book called “My Beautiful Mummy” was launched on the American book market. In an effort to explain the “mysterious doctors’ visits”, which could be particularly frightening to children, the book targets 4-7 year-old children, whose mother is undergoing or has underdergone cosmetic surgery. The picture book raises a lot of questions not only regarding what message we want to convey to children, but also concerning how society approaches cosmetic surgery in general. The reassuring picture tale hides some potential pitfalls. Oversimplifying a surgical procedure and making children feel comfortable with it threatens to reduce the attention to the risks and dangers related to the medical procedure, which is what cosmetic surgery is.

European legislation

This was one of the main arguments for Belgium to recently impose a ban on the advertising of cosmetic surgery. Cosmetic procedures are often not treated with an equal caution as other surgical procedures, while they hide the same potential dangers and risks. Prospective patients need to be adequately informed about the potential risks, side effects, and even alternatives of threatment. Plastic surgeons and clinics that break the law, approved in June 2011, risk a substantial fine. The same approach can be seen in France, where advertising of surgical treatment is also banned. In Britain, where approximately 100,000 women per year undergo plastic surgery procedures, a few years ago there was a debate about a possible EU-wide ban on advertising of cosmetic surgery. [2] These discussions on regulation have unfortunately not been followed-up so far.

[1Bill to regulate the advertising of cosmetic surgery (3-2382/1), 2007. Available at:

[2Cosmetic surgery industry in UK ’has key weaknesses’, 2010, BBC News. Available here:

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